Saturday Night Live just turned 40 and I may or may not have gone down a rabbit hole of Will Ferrell amazingness and Andy Samberg songs (the video below – NSFW!). Although Andy probably didn’t have ELT blogging in mind when he composed it, I take inspiration from wherever I can get it, especially living in Dubai.
In any case, after spending far too many hours on an MSc paper on discourse analysis of ELT blogs, I came up with a 6500-word monstrosity (you can email me if you’re a masochistic applied linguist looking for some light holiday reading). If you just want a quick synopsis of the findings though and are curious what luminaries @thornburyscott, @hughdellar, @teflerinha, and @Harmerj have in common, then read on!
The stars of the show
First, a big thank you to Scott, Hugh, Rachael and Jeremy for (unknowingly) providing the texts for my mini-corpus – good ol’ public interwebs. In any case, I only used bloggers with sizable followings, a large number of posts, and who also have published materials in other ELT genres.
It’s a genre I tell you (ok, maybe a sub-genre)
Although much of my academic rambling had to do with specific genre features of ELT blogs, suffice to say that all these blogs have a lot in common in terms of field (context, content, etc.), tenor (discourse community), and mode, as well intertextuality and the inherent structure of blogs.
How to do it
For me, perhaps the most interesting part was the consistency of the communicative ‘moves’ of the different authors. If someone was to ask me how to write an ELT blog (hey, it could happen), this is what I’d tell them:
1) Capture their attention with the title
Whether it’s humour, alliteration, or a question to the audience, make sure the title is catchy. My personal favourite from the corpus was Harmer’s “What the Dickens!” – I’m always going to read that one.
2) Create interest using multi-media
Ok, you’ve got the reader’s attention, now time to seal the deal. No one cares about words these days, so better whack in a picture, cartoon or video to liven up the text! Rachael gets my nod of approval for her pond full of floating rubber ducks.
3) Tell a personal anecdote
Now the reader’s hooked, but you don’t want to scare them off with cold ELT talk. Better warm them up with a little story. A tangentially related personal anecdote seems to be the safest bet, but if you don’t leave your ELT cave very often, then a current event will do in a pinch. The winner for this category is Scott who combines personal travel and current events with this opening line: “As the sign suggests, with the passing of the same-sex marriage bill, it’s been a good time to be gay in New York.”
4) Provide information/opinion on topic of interest to the ELT community
There’s no more delaying it – time to hit them with the heavy stuff. Luckily for you, if you’re writing an ELT blog, there’s not much chance of a non-ELT audience ever coming across your post. Too many good ones to choose a favourite for this move – there’s a reason I read these blogs!
5) Appeal to authority
It may be a personal blog, but a little back up never hurts. References to your own/others’ published work, informal work, and corpora should all do the trick.
6) Prompt or ask a question to finish
This ain’t no stuffy article, this is a blog post godammit. If you want some interaction you need to go out and get it, preferably after you’ve finished pontificating. You can either go for the direct question, “What new talks are you working on?” or the not-so-subtle hypothetical, “I’d be very interested to hear any comments…”
7) Link up to the community (this move can occur at any time)
Of course, since the internet lets you link to other ELTers’ output, you should probably crank the connections up to 11. Why not link to #ELTchat, other bloggers’ posts, or even to some new fancy app if you’re that way inclined (not that there’s anything wrong with it).
8) Interact with the ELT community
At this point all your hard work should have paid off and the comments and adulation are rolling in. Now you can just sit back, thank everyone for stopping by, and have a chat with your PLN friends. Good times.
Exception to prove the rule?
Interestingly, to start I had collected texts from Adrian Underhill’s amazing pronunciation blog and had noticed that his posts didn’t typically follow the move sequence. His texts were later cut from the research as he didn’t have enough followers (outrageous!), which brings up the question: is his blog less popular because he doesn’t follow the typical conventions? Ok, so it probably has more to do with his lack of a twitter account, but if I can’t draw dubious conclusions from my own tiny sample size, what’s the point of doing research?
Hmm… looking back at this post, it seems I’ve forgotten about move #6, so if anyone has any more ELT blog examples that confirm/refute this move sequence, please let me know below. Cheers.